Ishiburo, Sauna Culture Characteristic of Setouchi (at Chikamuro, Suooshima)

Japanese people love taking baths♪
What many non-Japanese people consider even more peculiar is the Japanese bath and bathing culture.

Even in the Japanese hit film, Thermae Romae, there are many scenes where Hiroshi Abe, the Japanese actor who plays the role of the ancient Roman, is struck with admiration towards the Japanese bathing culture that will make a Japanese person think “Even this?”.  To that kind of ancient Roman, or even to the Japanese (who in the series are referred to as the flat-faced people who love bathing)! There is a slightly different bathing facility in Suooshima that we would like you to experience.

It is the ishiburo!

Resembling a sauna, it’s a type of bathing facility that has spread widely in the Setouchi area.


You don’t take your clothes off. You crawl through the entrance that is barely large enough for one person to go through, and warm up inside the ishiburo (in this case, a small stone chamber) that has been warmed overnight.


When you enter, your skin prickles as if you were being baked. “Here, put this on”. I am given a yellow blanket. As the temperature is hotter in the morning, if you put a blanket on when entering the cavern, it feels just right♪… is what I would like to say, but that’s not quite the case. When you measure the temperature, believe it or not, it’s nearly 100 degrees Celsius! If you can bear it for 1 minute, you’ll receive praise.

The smell surrounding the cavern is unique as well!
It smells like just breathing it in is good for you. If I were to compare it to something, I would say it is kind of like fresh juice with a few drops of traditional Chinese medicine.
And that’s the way it should be, as in the photograph below you can see that what is being spread and piled up in the cavern is sea weed with sea water, medicinal plants and others. Apparently, the fresh feeling is due to the addition of citrus fruits that are the island’s specialty.


The ishiburo that was nearly 100℃ cools down to under 90℃ by the afternoon. When the temperature cools down to this point, you are able to chat. The locals probably know this, as they start to gather at this time…

“The ishiburo has been highly valued as a place for relaxation and refreshment. If it was just for getting rid of fatigue from manual labor, it wouldn’t have spread this widely.”

The person saying this is Mr. Takashi Fukuda, the previous chairman of Chikamuro’s ishiburo association, which was established to preserve the tradition. Apparently, for this one day, Mr. Fukuda spends an entire week making preparations!

“The seaweed used includes sargassum fulvellum (a brown algae), arame and eelgrass. The medicinal plants include Japanese mugwort, Japanese sweet flag, Camellia japonica, camphor tree leaves and Japanese iris. For making the fire we use pine and rice straw among others. All of these we receive from the nearby ocean and mountain villages/areas. Thanks to the abundant nature we can first warm up the ishiburo. We have to give thanks.” (he laughs…)


A small stream flows right nearby the ishiburo.
To cool a flushed body, if you walk upstream along an old trail, an 8-meter high waterfall will appear in front of your eyes. The clean water that flows from here has plenty of the mountain’s nutrients that make the Japanese sweet flag grow and thus protects the abundant ocean village. This function brings about the nature’s blessings that are essential for the ishiburo.

To pay gratitude for this, a guardian deity for the ishiburo has been enshrined in front of the waterfall.


Oidemase! Come to Yamaguchi.
Chikamuro’s Ishiburo (designated as a Suooshima tangible folk cultural asset)

A traditional steam and heat bathing facility centered mainly in the Setouchi shore area. Even at Suooshima, which is said to have been the densest in numbers, the only remaining and actually used ishiburo is the one at Chikamuro. Currently, the local ishiburo is managed and maintained by Chikamuro’s ishiburo association for preserving the tradition, and the ishiburo is warmed 6 times per year. The cavern is around 5 square meters wide and 2 meters high. Up to 6 people can enter at once. There is a resting area right nearby for changing clothes and having a chat.

Contact details: 080-2946-0302 Takashi Fukuda (Previous chairman of the Chikamuro ishiburo preservation association)

Address: Chikamuro, Suooshima-cho, Oshima district, Yamaguchi prefecture

Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Masashi Fujimoto



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Written by

Masafumi Fujimoto

Masafumi Fujimoto

Masafumi Fujimoto Hi there! My name is Masafumi Fujimoto. Until the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, I was engaged in editing production at an advertising company in Tokyo. However, the earthquake was a turning point in my life and I headed home to Yamaguchi. When I arrived, I was extremely energized and motivated to help revitalize the region, but I had a hard time adjusting to the motivation level of the local people. Around that time I met an elderly lady who said: "It doesn't matter if all the people move away from the island; that's just the nature of things. Someday people will come back again." Lessening the tension I’d been feeling, those few words relieved me hugely, and I was able to finally adjust. Since then, I've been involved in writing and editing magazines, and working in advertisement production, as well as doing a little bit of farming. I also spend time walking around Setouchi searching for the many, many voices out there.


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